Meet the Mentor



In all of my experience as an entrepreneurial champion, entrepreneurship scholar and — yes — an entrepreneur, the active presence of great role models and great mentors is crucial. I did an informal poll of entrepreneurs at different stages, and I found at least a dozen of the very best. Plus, my own experience with each of them has been uniformly positive. Even when they told me I was wrong — correctly.

Greenbelt Magazine is proud to showcase these amazing contributors to a more entrepreneurial Idaho, three at a time, with a special focus on names you may not know… but should. I asked them each five questions. Their answers blew me away. 

First, Karen Appelgren of the Business Resource Center at Zions Bank. Karen and Sheila Spangler first built up the Women’s Business Center and then moved to Zions. If there is one thing that gets the highest ROI for helping entrepreneurs it is…helping entrepreneurs. Coaching on business basics is not so sexy, but oh-so-valuable. (Just don’t tell her I call her “Coach Karen”.

Second, Simon Mahler is a hidden gem – I have seen few people better at asking the right questions. He often asks me unnervingly insightful questions. If you’re familiar with the SBA’s SCORE program for business counseling, Simon is one of only four counselors to ever be decorated as a true small champion.

Third, Joe Bonocore fled the Valley for the bright lights of Meridian after four successful Bay Area ventures and four successful exits. I call Joe the Master of Metrics; I’ve never met anyone better at understanding how to get the right metrics and KPIs. He’s a wizard at operations and strategic partnering. Without further adieu, here are the first three of Idaho’s greatest mentors.


What makes a good mentor? A bad mentor?

A good mentor focuses on helping entrepreneurs articulate their goals so they can create strategies and develop concrete plans of action with timelines for completion. A good mentor listens intently, asks questions to clarify or probe deeper and keeps an open mind to avoid jumping to conclusions or making false assumptions. She has the introspection and confidence to recognize her own limitations and make a referral when it becomes clear that an outside source has greater knowledge or depth of experience in a certain area. When people describe a bad experience with a mentor, they usually tell me that the mentor was more interested in talking about the mentor’s own accolades than in listening and learning about the entrepreneur’s challenges and opportunities.

What should I know/ask/do to see if a mentor is good for me?

Start with your network. Ask experienced entrepreneurs and trusted advisors like your attorney, CPA or banker for referrals to effective mentors. Why is the mentor motivated to work with entrepreneurs?  Does the mentor enjoy paying it forward, or is this an ego trip? Find out what experience the mentor has personally in starting, growing and managing a business. Find out what successes he or she has had working with entrepreneurs of different types. Remember, you are trusting this individual with proprietary information and your future.

What do mentees really need to know (and do)?

Mentees need to understand that the mentor’s time is valuable and commitment is expected. Entrepreneurs should come to meetings prepared and having done the research or tasks as assigned. While mentees may simply need to air frustrations, to someone who’s been

there, sometimes talking about problems is not enough — decisions must be made.

How do we grow good mentoring in Boise/Idaho?

Even good mentors can benefit from continued professional development. What about a local “mentors’ conference” or newsletter where best practices, ideas, resources and strategies can be shared?  This means embracing an abundance mentality and seeing other mentors as colleagues, rather than competition.

What is one thing that each of US can do to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem?

Make a conscious effort to buy local to support the small businesses in your community. Be willing to make introductions to your contacts to connect an entrepreneur to the right person or resource. Recognize and applaud the courage of entrepreneurs who, in many cases, are risking everything to start or grow their business. Talk to your own children about small business ownership as a possible career path because our economy depends on it.

What would you like to do, and how can we help you?

I think it’s important to provide regular opportunities for networking among entrepreneurs in the Treasure Valley.  When community events like Boise Startup Week or the Business Essentials Summit take place, help get the word out and think about how you can provide value by participating.

Karen Appelgren

Vice President & Director, Business Resource Center;

Zions Bank

Office: (208) 501-7449;

Cell: (208) 401-4507

Simon Mahler

What makes a good mentor? A bad mentor?

Good mentors: Take the time to listen to the entire story before making an assumption on a path to take; ask questions that they know can be engaging, challenging and demonstrate a path of opportunity that the person on the other end seeking help may not have otherwise discovered; are always available, going the extra mile to help further develop a business idea or fix problems.

Bad mentors: Those who do not follow through; people who has alternative motives for meeting with the entrepreneur; people who do not prepare for the meeting in advance; people who give opinions to solutions with little support or evidence.

2)  What should I know/ask/do to see if a mentor is good for me?

To find a great mentor, do a background check. Often when I mentor someone, it is because they did their fact checking on me to see if I could even be a good match for them. Ask your prospective mentor questions that are relative to the industry you are in.

What do mentees really need to know (and do)?

People being mentored need to expect to hear criticism and take it as an opportunity to learn something new, to be open and honest about everything. Too often people I have mentored have withheld information simply because they were afraid to share it with me, but not knowing that it would have a direct impact on the success of their launch or how to keep their business going. People being mentored should expect homework. Mentors should assign homework, ensure mentees are serious about starting or correcting their business and take your information seriously.

How do we grow good mentoring in Boise/Idaho?

You grow good mentoring like a startup community. Get people engaged. Get people excited. Recruiting good people who are excited about entrepreneurship and understand that how you start a business today is not how we all started a business in years past. Mentoring in this region is just okay, so let’s get more people involved in helping other budding ideas grow the region.

What is one thing that each of US can do to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem? What would you like to do, and how can we help you?

We all can grow the ecosystem here in Idaho if we eliminate the personal and secret agendas that exist out there and work together. Let’s work to create entrepreneurship ecosystems statewide. What would I do? I would travel across the entire state to help small businesses if I knew I could provide for my family. Idaho would find no one more passionate about rural communities and small business. Idaho should be a great place for anyone to launch a venture – let’s make it so! 

Simon Mahler:

(509) 572-8334

Joseph J. Bonocore

What makes a good mentor? A bad mentor?

A good mentor is a person who has a successful history in the area where they mentor. They should also be an effective listener and not “preach.” Each situation is different, and the mentor should understand the differences. A bad mentor does not have the attributes listed above. Most bad mentors just do not have the experience to do the job.

What should I know/ask/do to see if a mentor is good for me?

Know that a mentor is only as good as their success in the industry or function for which you desire to be mentored. Pay attention to their ability or willingness to understand your needs and listen to your issues.

What do mentees really need to know (and do)?

Engage with your mentor in good dialogue. Mentors are not making decisions for you — they are giving advice. Don’t be afraid to change a mentor if you are uncomfortable with their history or their advice.

How do we grow good mentoring in Boise/Idaho?

Understand that not all people who have executive experience are good mentors. Too many mentees take advice from these executives who do not understand the industry or the issues the mentees are facing.

What is one thing that each of US can do to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem? What would you like to do, and how can we help you?

Many entrepreneurs in Boise should have a better understanding of the innovation process. This basic understanding can go a long way in making their activities successful. I am helping to address this issue by teaching a course at BSU entitled “Innovation Influencing Change” which utilizes my experience in founding and successfully exiting four technology companies as the basis for teaching a proven process for creating or expanding businesses.

Joseph J. Bonocore

President & CEO; Bonocore Technology Partners



I think you’ll see some patterns forming already – like lower scores on Narcissistic Personality Inventory? Three more are on deck for next month! Please contact me if you have other questions. I’d be honored if you checked out my recent blog posts HERE and added your two cents’ worth.

Entrepreneurially yours,